On the trail of the Campbells of Verneukpan and Glencoe

On the trail of the Campbells of Verneukpan and Glencoe

I love shooting landscapes. They’re a challenge. Landscapes are fleeting; an enigma, instant. You need to catch the drama, the light and the mood in a moment because five minutes later everything changes and you’ve lost it.

Landscapes can really test your character and ability. You have no control over them. And that’s what I love about shooting them.

From the start of my life as a photographer I wanted to take pictures of landscapes. But there’s no money in it. Never has been. I also love cars – and there’s money there. So I quickly realised that if I combined the two – landscapes and cars – I’d probably have a decent career.

These two shots have the kind of lighting, drama, landscape I like. Both are on either side of the world; one in South Africa, one in Scotland and both have a Campbell theme running through them.

Verneukpan, South Africa

The first was shot on a dry lake bed in South Africa at Verneukpan, 450 miles north of Cape Town. It’s where Malcolm Campbell raced Bluebird in 1929, a car powered by a Napier-Lion aero engine. More a plane than a car. Ironically, the day he turned up it started to rain – for the first time in 5 years! Happily for me it was bone dry the day I arrived.

Mercedes wanted a landscape to run alongside the other images I shot of its new Mercedes SLK200. An atmospheric shot; a dry lake bed with hills. I drove up there – an isolated magnificent-bleak vista in front of me – and it was like the heavens opened. Suddenly a shaft of light shone through the clouds above a shattered tree in the foreground. Amazing. I used a 5/4 camera, shot the image for five minutes – this was film not digital – and headed back to the hotel. In the shot, what you see is what I saw apart from a little retouching in Photoshop.


Glencoe, Scotland

Glencoe, Scotland

This next shot was of Glencoe in northern Scotland, about 14 miles from Fort William. It’s the historic site of the conflict between the Campbell and McDonalds clans. A wonderful, dramatic landscape in the shadow of the Pap of Glencoe – the mountain peak in the distance – and Loch Leven. It’s also famed for the films that have been shot in the area, which include Harry Potter and Braveheart.

I first came across the area when I was doing a shoot for Jeep in the 90s. They didn’t want to use the location, so I just stored the landscape away for another day.

Subaru then asked me to do a landscape shot without a car. They wanted a remote road going off into the distance, surrounded by mountains and lakes, so this shot was ideal. What I loved about it was the light dusting of snow. It illuminated the road disappearing into the horizon. But, again, it was fleeting. It was early in the morning and as the day warmed up, the snow was gone and the road was invisible once more.

Later I also used the location for a Volvo campaign. I guess it illustrates how important backplates are. With landscapes like these and the ever changing light, you can use these locations again and again and come up with something different.

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